“Forty Rooms” by Olga Grushin

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Pages:  352

Published:  February 16, 2016

 

 

 

 

Brilliant, insightful, imaginative,  philosophical and unique!  This novel, written by Russian born Olga Grushin is an incredible read.  It is a collection of short stories each taking place in a room that the narrator has lived in or spent time in during her lifetime.  The stories initially are set in Russia and then move to America when the narrator travels there for college.  There are so many life truths illustrated beautifully within this novel:  the twists and turns life takes us on; it’s meaning;  the perceptions of others as well as ourselves;  the changing vision and perspective of life as we age;  the rooms we choose to inhabit and their impact on us.  This was so despite, or perhaps as a result of, the overwhelming use of fantasy/magical realism within the book.

This novel is so powerful and rich with language, metaphors, imagery, mirrors and reflections.  There is so much depth to the novel added by the insertion thoughts that the various other characters are having; by repeating scenes with different scenarios, leaving it open to interpretation what might have actually transpired and what was fantasy;  and of course by the magical or fantastical characters.  The whole novel has a “dizzying,”  dream-like quality to it.  Many of the scenes occur, followed by Mrs. Caldwell waking up.

The novel is divided into parts which represent different time periods in Mrs. Caldwell’s life.  Within each part are chapters representing the rooms within which each of the short stories occur. Forty rooms was very purposely chosen.  As the narrator’s mother tells her: “Forty is God’s number for testing the human spirit.  It’s the limit of man’s endurance, beyond which you are supposed to learn something true.  Oh, you know what I mean- Noah’s forty days and nights of rain,  Moses’ forty years in the desert, Jesus’ forty days of fasting and temptation.  Forty of anything is long enough to be a trial, but it’s man-size too.  In the Bible, forty years makes a span of one generation.  Forty weeks makes a baby.”

In the beginning of the novel, the young Mrs. Caldwell hopes to achieve immortality.  She wants only to write poetry and devote herself fully to that art.  She is told by her Apollo that “the meaning of a single individual human life,.. consists of figuring out the one thing you are great at and then pushing mankind’s mastery of that one thing as far as you are able, be it an inch or a mile.”  She really does work hard at her poetry and it seems all-consuming until she meets Paul and settles into married life, not even telling him her aspirations or love of writing poetry.  She becomes a mother in a foreign country, with no friends and does not even learn to drive for quite some time.  She seems to have lost herself and is trapped in her family life, and in so doing, her marriage starts to fail as well.

I loved that this novel encompassed an entire life.  The reader is able to observe the changes occurring from childhood through adulthood to the very end.  It leaves you wondering how Mrs. Caldwell’s  life might have been under different circumstances or had she made different choices.  As a mother to young children who has made career concessions of my own, I felt swept away with this novel eager to hear the author’s final message or verdict on what might the right path be.  I think this book is amazing!  It is wonderfully written, incredibly insightful and sends many powerful messages!  I must say, this book would appeal much more to women than men and would make a great book club read.  images

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think is the meaning of life?  How does it change as we age?  Do you think that meaning is different for men and women?
  2.  Where is truth in this novel really found?  In the real life circumstances or in fantasy?
  3. What is the perspective on the “showing of wealth”:  the large house and the many belongings and how it affects people?
  4.  Paul makes a statement about how easy it is to stay at home.  How easy is it really?  What sacrifices are made?
  5. Why don’t you think Mrs. Caldwell ever confronted Paul about his affair?
  6. Do you think her poetry was ever any good?
  7. Who is Olga to her?  Does she exist or is she fantasy?
  8. Do you think the man who visited her mother in the afternoons was real or fantasy?  Do you think this is the same person as her Apollo?
  9. How might her life have been different had she gone back to Russia?
  10. How might her life have been different had she gone to Paris with Adam?
  11. Why do you think she kissed Adam in the wine cellar?
  12. Do you think Mrs. Caldwell ultimately led the life that made her happy?
  13. What are Mrs. Caldwell’s reasons for having children?
  14. Her grandmother tells her she won’t find happiness unless she gets greedy and looks for it.  Does she follow this advice?
  15. What do you think makes for a happy life?  Is it the small moments as Mrs. Caldwell alludes too?
  16. What do you think the author’s opinion is of the institution of marriage?

Olga Grushin’s website

New York Times’ Review

“Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey

 

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Pages: 272

Published: February 9, 2016

 

 

 

“Ways to Disappear” is a humorous mystery novel whose protagonist is an American woman in Brazil, searching for the woman whose novels she translates into English.  The author utilizes hilarity, magical realism, stories within stories, imagery, and subtleties of word meaning to create her lovable, lyrical, beautiful novel.

Emma, the protagonist,  feels very close to her author, Beatriz Yagoda, through her works as well as her yearly visits with her.  Once she hears that Beatriz has disappeared, seeming into a tree with her suitcase and cigar, she immediately packs her bag and heads to Brazil, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend.  Brazil, and the exciting search for Beatriz, seem a separate and freer world for Emma, one where she is happier and more herself.

The events that ensue are hilarious.  The characters are interesting and perfectly described. I thought the subtext about the difference between American and Brazilian ways of life very accurate and entertaining.

I couldn’t help wondering while reading this novel if the author was a translator herself, which I realized at the end of reading, that she was.  Now I wonder how much of the novel has a root of truth versus fantasy of her own.

This was an excellent read, such an enjoyable ride!  I highly recommend it to everyone.images-2

brazildisappear

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the relationship between Miles and Emma?
  2. What is the reaction of Marcus and Raquel when Emma arrives?
  3. What differences in culture between Brazil and the United States are highlighted in the book?
  4. Why do you think that Beatriz uses characters from her novels when contacting Rocha?  What additional meaning does this lend her communications with him?
  5. Do you think that Raquel questioned her paternity prior to reading the manuscript on her mother’s computer?
  6. Do you believe that Beatriz is still alive at the end?
  7. The novel is preceded  with the following quote:  “For a time we became the same word.  It could not last.” by Edmond Jabes, Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop.   How does this relate to Indra Novey’s novel?

Idra Novey’s website

NPR’s review

“My Sunshine Away” by M. O. Walsh

 

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Pages:  306

Published:  February 10, 2015

An NPR best book of the year, New York Times best-seller

 

 

“My Sunshine Away” is a coming-of-age mystery novel set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The narrator is a young boy who falls in love with his friend and neighbor, Lindy.  His love is persistent throughout the transformations of identity that Lindy undergoes in the aftermath of being raped.  This young boy is also dealing with other big issues:  divorced parents, a neglectful father, and the death of a sibling.

The mystery in this novel is who the rapist might be.  There are several unsettling characters in the book that are suspects.  The narrator himself briefly appears to be a suspect.  He is hiding something, but we do not know what.

I enjoyed the lush descriptions of Baton Rouge immensely:  the culture, the food, the people, the nature, the impact of Andrew and Katrina.  Some of the chapters that were about Baton Rouge could have been stand-alone short stories, and very good ones at that.

The book is written from adulthood, reminiscing back about 20 years, but he also spends time speaking of his current life:  adulthood, marriage, his wife’s pregnancy.  These adulthood chapters were less interesting to me.  I felt that there was a comparative lack of passion, or maybe even disingenuousness,  when the narrator was describing his adult life.   Yes, it was nice to have the complete picture of how everyone turned out, but it felt  unnecessary to me.   The narrator also inserts certain facts about children who have been raped, children who have grown up with divorced parents or suffered the death of a sibling, as well as facts about the foster system.  The facts felt instructive, yet were interesting.

I give this book:  3-stars , well 3.5.   It was well written, had great character development and dealt with some weighty coming-of-age issues.  Saying that, I did not feel deeply affected by it.  I would definitely categorize it more as a young adult read, and I think for the younger reader, it would be more pertinent and affective, more of a 4 star read.  I also think reading about a girl’s experience of rape, from the perspective of a prepubescent boy who is “in love” with her, only added distance to the horror of it.  Perhaps, to the male reader, it would be more meaningful.

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Baton Rouge, LA

 

 

 

 

crawfish & corn

 

 

“All I saw were drunk and sweaty people, sucking the heads off insects,”  says the narrator’s friend from Michigan

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Spanish moss (with lice)

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  It seemed like there were no consequences to Bo Kearne’s behavior.  How do you think this affected him?
  2. Did you ever think while reading the novel that it could have been the narrator who committed the crime?  Why or why not?
  3. What were your thoughts about Lindy’s parents approaching potential suspects with the police?
  4. How does Lindy change after the rape?  Is it immediate or is there a delay?  How do you feel the “outing” of the rape affects her?
  5. What is the effect of group therapy on Lindy?
  6. Jason Landry is the “anchor” of his foster family.  What are your thoughts on foster families doing this with one of their foster children?
  7. What do you perceive as the abuses suffered by Jason and the other Landry foster children?
  8. How do you perceive the relationship of the narrator and his father?  What do you make of the father and his 18 year old girlfriend?
  9. Why do you think the narrator remains un-named throughout the novel?
  10. How does Lindy manifest the “rape trauma syndrome?
  11. Is the narrator really listening to Lindy during all those late night conversations?  Why or why not?  What is he hoping to hear from her?  How is he hoping the conversation will go?
  12. What do you make of Uncle Barry’s role in the novel?  Why do you think the narrator’s mother wanted to minimize his influence?
  13. What do you make of the narrator’s choice of wife?
  14. How does the narrator hope to raise his son?  What kind of father does he plan to be?
  15. How would you explain the meaning of the title?

 

M. O. Walsh’s website

Interview with M. O. Walsh published in Huffington Post

Disscussion Questions by Penguin Books

“Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff

 

61F+t-ywhCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Published: September 15, 2015

Pages: 400

Awards: National Book Award Finalist (2015), Kirkus Prize Nominee for Fiction (Finalist) (2015), Amazon’s 2015 Best Book of the Year

 

 

“Fates and Furies” unfolds and reveals itself like a piece of art.  It is so multi-layered, deeply complex and philosophical that it left me spellbound, awed, & utterly impressed with this author.  It is a sexy, brilliant, exquisitely written novel that pivots around the intensely bright love and marriage between two people, who seem so different, but love each other so fiercely.  The husband, Lotto, is exuberant and narcissistic, but alternates between extreme highs and lows in his moods: between mania, with extreme passion and love for others and creativity; and depression with suicidal thoughts.  The wife, Mathilde, is so loving and devoted to her husband, but also has a cold, calculating, manipulative side that she conceals.  There are striking differences between the two:  he is always bathed in light and she in darkness.

Appearances can be deceptive in his book.  Mathilde feels that she is evil to her core, which stems from her childhood memory of being implicated at the age of 4 in the death of her younger brother.  Lotto, however, saw kindness at the very core of Mathilde.    There are so many twists and turns in this novel, making it an exciting read, one that keeps you thinking, guessing, and questioning what you know about the characters and people in general.  It is told in two parts:  the first, “the fates”, is from Lotto’s perspective and the second, “the furies” is Mathilde’s perspective.  The two halves read very differently complimenting the protagonist whose story it is.  Everyone is bathed in warmth and light from Lotto’s perspective and you begin the see the evil hidden side of the characters revealed when reading Mathilde’s story.  You also realize how she is the bedrock of his success, his glory, his glamorous life.

Lauren Groff’s command of the English language (as well as French) is incredible.  The inlaid humor, wordplay,  many layers of imagery, stories within stories,  parallel characters, and juxtapositions of character traits are fascinating.  It was a pure delight to read.  I recommend this book to anyone who loves high quality literature.  All the pieces come together perfectly like a puzzle, but it is never trite.  images  I also love the autobiographical element:  in the afterward the author speaks to how she told her friend that she would marry her now husband of many years after her first glimpse of him.

While reading the first half of the book, I keep being reminded of “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides which was a book about a couple who marries right out of college.  It is revealed that he is bipolar in the course of getting to know him.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did you feel about Antoinette sending Lotto off to boarding school?
  2. There are several suicides that occur within this novel.  What do you think their significance is?
  3. Chollie accuses Mathilde of being the “predator” and Lotto, the “prey” in their relationship.  What do you think he means by this?  Do you agree?  Is it the reverse as Lotto suggests?
  4. What do you make of Antoinette’s transformation from beautiful mermaid to “sucker fish gobblemouthing the glass?”  What has caused her to change so?  Why is she always in an aquarium?
  5. Why do you think that Lotto thinks back to his relationship with Gwennie on his way to see Leo?
  6. Did you think Lotto was a misogynist when regarding his comments about the difference between genders?  Why do you think that Mathilde walked out?
  7. Why do you think Mathilde did not want to have children?
  8. If Lotto and Mathilde had children, how do you imagine it would have affected their marriage and love for each other?
  9. Why did Chollie never tell Lotto that Gwennie’s death was a suicide?
  10. Mathilde thinks that by becoming a wife she became invisible.  Is this what she wanted?
  11. When Mathilde moves to the United States as a young girl, she changes her name.  Is she pretending to be someone else from that point forward?  Why else might she be changing her name?
  12. How do you feel the plays add or detract from the novel?
  13. Why would Land steal “The Springs” manuscript?  What was it about that play that spoke to him?
  14. Is Mathilde a “pathological truth-teller”  as Lotto accuses her?
  15. What do you make of the letters exchanged between Mathilde and Antoinette?
  16. Why do you think Phoebe Delmar finally comes around to writing a good review of one of Lotto’s plays?
  17. Do you think that Mathilde maliciously tripped her brother to his death down the stairs as has been told to her all her life or is her more buried vision of the story the truth?  Do you believe that a 4 year old can be that intentionally evil?
  18. What do you suppose the author’s view of marriage is?

Lauren Groff’s website

Review published by The New Yorker magazine

Discussion Questions by LitLovers

“When Breath becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi

 

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Published: January 12, 2016

Pages:228

 

 

 

This brief memoir is interposed between a foreword by Abraham Verghese, the brilliant author of “Cutting for Stone” and an epilogue by author’s wife, Lucy Kalanithi.  It is a beautiful, heartrending, deeply philosophical piece by an accomplished young man who dedicated heart and mind to his work and study in neurosurgery.  He discovers that he has terminal lung cancer at the age of 36, just before completing his grueling neurosurgical residency and embarking on the career he has worked so hard to attain.   The book is very thoughtful and reflective in nature, especially upon the meaning of life.  It made me wonder if the author was truly always so interested in finding the meaning of life, or if only when told of this terminal diagnosis, that reflection back on  his life made this search so apparent.  As one nears death, what is most important, becomes glaringly more obvious, and Paul Kalanithi describes this so well.

Abraham Verghese speaks in the foreword of how he had met Paul in person several times before his death, but it was not until he read his book that he felt  he really knew him.  I too, felt like I got to know Paul through this book.  He is very open and honest about himself, his sickness, his relationships, and struggles and triumphs throughout the process of dealing with cancer.

I find it interesting that Paul did not always think he wanted to be a physician, but rather thought he might be a writer.  He may not have realized his full potential as neurosurgeon and professor, but he surely achieved his goal to be a writer.  He has left behind a beautiful book that will be read for many years to come.  It will be of great interest to those with life-threatening disease, their family members, and really everyone, because we will all be in those shoes at some point.  He has also left behind a wonderful gift of himself to his daughter.  She will not remember her time with him, but she will be able to know him through this book and well as through the memories that I’m sure his close relations will share with her.  Aside from writing and even delving back into neurosurgery residency at one point, he spent the last years of his life following his diagnosis, building closer bonds with his family, and the love there was overflowing.

Aside from being an important read for anyone facing a life-threatening illness themselves or loving someone who is, I think it is a very important read for all medical professionals.  It puts a face behind a patient, who is clearly able to articulate the thoughts and feelings of being a patient in our medical system.  It emphasizes and highlights the importance of the physician-patient relationship.

I give this memoir images for it’s thought provoking, beautiful prose, as well as for writing it’s way through a death with utmost dignity.  He strengthens his belief systems, forges stronger relationships with family and loved ones, and finds greater meaning in life once he is given this terminal diagnosis.

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Stanford University neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi savors a moment with his daughter, Cady, earlier this year. Kalanithi, who had never smoked, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. He died March 9 at the age of 37. Illustrates SURGEON-ESSAY (category l), by Paul Kalanithi , special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, March 13, 2015. (MUST CREDIT: By Mark Hanlon/ Stanford University)
(MUST CREDIT: By Mark Hanlon/ Stanford University)

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think is the meaning of life?  What makes life meaningful?  Are these two questions different?
  2. Paul says in his book, Darwin and Nietzsche agree that the defining characteristic of live is striving.  Do you agree?
  3. Why do think doctors sometimes lose sight of the doctor-patient relationship?
  4. How does terminal illness change Paul’s identity?
  5. If you were to die tomorrow, what meaning would your life have?
  6. Jeff kills himself because of a bad outcome.  Do you think we put too much responsibility upon physicians?
  7. Do you think the long hours that residents work is a good thing?  How does it affect the doctor-patient relationship and the quality of care?
  8. How do you think physicians are treated differently when treated for illnesses than people unknown to physicians?  Do you think there is a difference in the care they would receive?
  9. Lucy asks Paul at one point, “What are you most afraid of?”  He answers that it is leaving her.  What would you be most afraid of?
  10. How did you feel about Paul and Lucy’s decision to have a baby?
  11. What does “death with integrity” mean to you?

Paul Kalanithi’s website

New York Times Review

Discussion Questions by Random House

“My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout

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Published:  January 12, 2016

Pages: 208

 

 

 

I LOVE Elizabeth Strout’s writing!  “Olive Kitteridge” is one of my favorite books, and this reminded me of that novel in the beginning, but it was a very different kind of book.  “Olive Kitteridge” is a collection of short stories which involved characters in the same town whose lives intersected, some in very major, others minor ways.  This book was told by a single narrator and even though it was divided into chapters, it flowed like one continuous story.  The writing is profound and soul-searching, and her characters are so deeply human.  Such depth of emotion and feeling are felt while reading this.

“My name is Lucy Barton” begins with the narrator reflecting on a particular time in her life when she was hospitalized for appendicitis which becomes complicated by mysterious persistent fevers following the surgery.  This was a pivotal point in the a narrator’s life to reflect back on her childhood with the poverty and abuse that accompanied it and well as project forward into the future as to what she wanted from life and what was to become her life.

There is a powerful dialogue between Lucy and her mother within the hospital and during this, what goes unsaid is just as important, maybe more important than what is said.  The mother tells Lucy story after story of failing marriages, but there is hardly a mention of Lucy’s father.

Sarah Payne, a character in the novel later tells Lucy of her writing about this time period: ” This is a story about love, you know that.  This is a story of a man who has been tortured every day of his life for things he did in the war.  This is the story of a wife who stayed with him, because most wives did in that generation, and she comes to her daughter’s hospital room and talks compulsively about everyone’s marriage going bad, she doesn’t even know it, doesn’t even know what she’s doing.  This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter.  Imperfectly.  Because we all love imperfectly.”  This quote speaks to the major theme of the book so well:  it is about how love can coexist with abuse, neglect, poverty.  The book also speaks to memory and how we can all remember things differently.  How we may choose to hide certain memories or pretend things never happened to cover up for the people we love.  It is shocking towards the end, that she speaks with her brother and sister regularly and how much they choose not to speak about or ask each other about.   Lucy Barton is reminded by Sarah Payne, “to go to the page without judgement”  reminding her “that we never knew, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully.”

Another quote from the book that I really liked:  “It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people.  It happens everywhere, and all the time.  Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”  Throughout the book, Lucy feels distanced and alienated from others because of her poor upbringing.  She and her family were ignored by others in town, and when she went off to college, she often felt that others made comments conveying that they were feeling superior to her circumstances.  She comments to her friend, Jeremy, that she envied the men with HIV, because at least they had a community.  She even feels distanced from her husband by the different circumstances of their upbringing.

This book is filled with love, but also with feelings of melancholy, sadness, fear, terror, loneliness, abandonment.  The characters, feelings, relationships and sentiments are described in such a real, human manner, that the book is very affecting.   I highly recommend this book to anyone, but do think it would appeal more to women.  It was a book that I did not want to end because I loved it so much, but it was just perfect the way it was!  A huge images !!!!!!!

Discussion Questions:

  1.  If you have read other Elizabeth Strout novels, which is your favorite and why?
  2. Why do you think Lucy experienced so much loneliness throughout her life?
  3. Why do you think teaching was so exhausting for Sarah Payne?
  4. What do you suppose Sarah was hiding from her writing?
  5. Do you think Lucy should be somewhat responsible for helping her siblings out?
  6. There were many horrifying memories of Lucy as well as others, like her friend, Molla.  Was there one that struck you particularly?  In what way do you think Molla and Lucy’s childhood memories were similar?
  7. Jeremy tells Lucy to “be ruthless as a writer.”  What do you think he means by this?  Do you believe that Lucy follows his advice?
  8. What do you imagine Lucy’s mother’s childhood to have been like?
  9. In what way or ways do Lucy and her siblings suffer abuse from their father?

Discussion Questions from Elizabeth Strout’s blog

New York Times Review

“My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman

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Published: June 16, 2015 (in English)

First Published in Swedish:  Sept. 4, 2013

Pages:372

 

Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.  That’s just how it is.  For Elsa, her grandmother is her superhero, however as the book progresses Elsa begins to notices superpowers in all those close to her.   This book has a childlike honesty and curiosity to it.  It is told from Elsa’s 7 year old perspective.  There is much humor and sweetness to this book.

It is a heartwarming quirky tale that begins with the relationship between a grandmother and her 7 year old granddaughter.  Granny is eccentric and will do anything to protect and guide Elsa through life.  The 7 year old Elsa is a wise-for-her-age little girl who comes across as “different” from her peers and is the subject of bullying at school.  Her best and only friend is her grandmother.  The grandmother goes to great lengths to distract Elsa from her rough days, including a scene where Elsa and her grandmother sneak into the zoo late at night and when the police arrive, Granny proceeds to throw animal poop at them.

After Elsa’s parents divorce, Granny weaves a series of fantastical fairy tales that take place in a world that Elsa thinks only she and her grandmother know about, the “Land-of -almost-awake.”  The grandmother also teaches her a secret language so they can speak to each other without others knowing what they are saying.

Elsa is not told by the grandmother that she is dying until just before her death at which point she is sent on a mysterious mission whereby she must deliver a series of letters.  Through this process of letter delivering Elsa develops a better sense of who her grandmother was, her grandmother’s relationship with her mother, as well as understands the relationships of those living in the building with her.  These people in her building become sort of an extended family for Elsa.

This fantastical world that Granny tells to Elsa serves as a framework for the Elsa to understand the relationship between all of those around her.  She realizes that these fantastical stories are actually true stories about those around her, and seemingly becomes wiser and more grown up as she understands this.  She appreciates the people around her better, their relationships to each other, and feels more connected to them.

While reading the book, I wondered at the seemingly random titles given to each chapter, but they came together perfectly in the last paragraph of the book.

While the book was originally written in Swedish, it really could have taken place anywhere.  There are a few Swedish cultural references, such as Daim chocolate bars.

images-3map of Sweden

elsa    apartment building layout

I really liked this book.  images-2  It was sweet, endearing, humorous, quirky, lovable.  I was thinking while reading that it would make for very good young adult reading.

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Two other covers.  I find it interesting that another English version (published in Australia) has a different title.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think made Elsa different?
  2. Why do you think the grandmother stopped working when Elsa was born?
  3. Why don’t you think Elsa was ever told directly of the grandmother’s connection to all of the people in the building?
  4. Do you think Britt Marie was changed by her bad marriage?  How do you think leaving the marriage will affect her?  Fredrik Backman has published a novel about Britt Marie in Swedish, that has not yet come out in English.  What do you suppose Britt Marie’s future adventures will entail?
  5. If you read, A Man Called Ove, how does this compare?
  6. If Elsa were describing you as a character in this book, what superpower would she ascribe to you?
  7. What country or countries do you suppose these refugees living in the building are from?

Reading Group Guide from Simon & Schuster

Review by fellow blogger BookNAround

 

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

 

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Published:  February 3, 2015

Pages:  440

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction (2015)

 

 

This WW2 historical fiction novel was a slow starter for me, however the character development and historical background were so beautifully and masterfully laid out that I was compulsively reading toward the end.  In fact, I was on a plane with tears streaming down my face for the last 15% of the novel.  My 5 year old son asked me what the words were in the book that were making me cry.  How could I even begin to explain!???

This is a heart-rending novel, full of love and compassion, contrasted by war.  The quote that starts the book off and is really the theme weaving itself throughout the novel within each of the characters and their relationship to each other is, “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”  The main plot of this novel pivots on the relationship between two sisters and their different manners of resisting and/or complying with the German occupation of France during WW2.  Their understanding of war grows and helps them to better understand their father and his mistreatment of them when they were younger.

I have not read Kristin Hannah’s other books, but have heard that they are considered more of the “romance” and “chic-lit” genres.  I was somewhat skeptical at the outset of this novel that this might be the same as she is very descriptive in her writing, however, I grew to love and linger on her descriptions of items, people, and geography with such detail.  She describes aromas, tastes, feelings, and an array of other senses so vividly that I as the reader, felt fully transplanted while reading.  But, I also felt that there was a shift in her writing style from pre-war to wartime.  The writing was much more “flowery” in the pre-war era and during wartime things moved more quickly.

Kristin Hannah handled the relationships within the book masterfully.  I love how beautifully she describes the the bonds between sisters, between lovers, between mother and child.  The love, mistrust, abandonment, terror, and so many feelings are so vivid and intense in this book.

This novel goes in and out of present day for the narrator (1995) in America on the Oregon Coast to a third-person narrating 1939 and through WW2 in France.  It is unclear until the end of the book which sister the narrator actually is, Vianne or Isabelle.

2000px-France_map_Lambert-93_with_regions_and_departments-occupation.svg

This map depicts the occupied and free zones which were spoke of in the book.  Both Vianne and Isabelle are in the Loire Valley during the early part of German military occupation.  Isabelle leaves Vianne to move to Paris and become part of the french resistance and ultimately “The Nightingale” helping to take downed pilots to safety across the Pyrenees, via Tours to Spain.  Vianne’s initial instinct is to protect her child and cooperate, but ultimately resists the French by helping Jewish children to safety.  The book highlights the role of women in WW2.

UnknownLoire Valley pyrennes-spain-3518988The Pyrenees

My overall rating: images  I absolutely loved it!!! Amazing!  Moving!  Deeply absorbing!  A book that stays with you long after you’ve finished it!

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why is Isabelle’s title “The Nightingale”?  Is it because nightingales sing mostly at night?  Is there another reason?
  2. How does the book’s opening statement relate to characters in the book?   “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”  How does this play out with Vianne and Isabelle’s father; Vianne; Isabelle; the German officers billeting at Vianne’s house; Antoine?
  3. How does this book compare with other WW2 historical fiction novels taking place in France?  Some examples include “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and “Life after Life” by Kate Atkinson.  Do you have a favorite WW2 historical fiction novel?
  4. Did you find yourself identifying with one sister more than the other?  Did you find yourself admiring one sister more than the other?  Who did you expect to be the narrator at the end?
  5. If you’ve read other Kristin Hannah books, how does this book compare with her other books?
  6. Do you think France felt shame at it’s role in complying with the German occupation and enforcing internment of Jews in camps after the war?

Discussion Guide from Kristin Hannah’s website

Review by USA Today

Introduction & Book Review Policy

Hello, I’m Marie.  I love reading books, attending my book club, where we mostly drink wine, but also sometimes talk about the books we read.  I thought I would try my hand at creating a blog to share my thoughts about the books I’m reading and hopefully create a forum where others can chime in to discuss these books or just get some ideas for reading and discussing at book clubs on their own.  I’m a brand new blogger, so bear with me.  Any thoughts/suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.  I read a great variety of books including fiction, non-fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, mysteries.  I typically steer away from romance, horror and graphic novels.  When I read, I often appreciate looking at a map or pictures to get a sense of the region, so I will try to include these when possible.  I hope you enjoy!

Now that I’ve gotten started here, I would welcome any requests for reading & reviewing books from authors and publishers.  I’ve had some requests below, but was simply getting my feet wet the first month and wanted to see how this would go.  If you are interested in having me read and review a book, please email me directly at bookchatter@hushmail.com.  I would welcome a sample couple of pages from the book to get an idea of the writing style.  I do not plan to accept all requests, but will consider on a case by case basis.  Once I have read and posted a review, I will email you to let you know and post to goodreads as well as librarything.  Thank you so much!

sharing a love of books

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